Four Georgia men have been sentenced to prison for taking part in a scheme to recruit homeless people to cash counterfeit business checks at banks in Connecticut and other New England states.

All four men – Cortavious Benford, 27, and Michael Williams, 27, of Atlanta; Austin Weaver, 27, of Decatur; and Jalen Ronald Stanford 28, of East Point – had previously pleaded guilty in Providence federal court to a charge of conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

According to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office in Rhode Island, the four men created counterfeit checks that were payable to homeless and transient individuals they had recruited from the Providence area. The homeless individuals agreed to be driven to banks in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maine to cash the checks, which were typically for $2,000 or more. These individuals were often paid about $100 for each check that they successfully cashed.

Approximately $677,687 worth of counterfeit checks were presented to banks between October 2018 and February 2021 throughout the four states by members of the conspiracy, according to an investigation by the United States Secret Service. The banks experienced actual losses of almost $481,000.

Several homeless individuals were arrested as they attempted to cash counterfeit checks, the U.S. attorney’s statement said.

On Feb. 5, 2021, Williams and Benford recruited and drove a homeless person to a Providence bank to cash a check, threatening to injure the man if he failed to provide them with all the proceeds, the statement said. Inside the bank, the man pointed to a vehicle that was parked outside with the individuals who had recruited him and provided him with the counterfeit check. Providence Police located the vehicle and arrested Williams and Benford, who had $12,000 in cash, according to the statement.

During a court-authorized search of a Providence residence the four men used in Rhode Island, law enforcement seized a computer which had a program used to design and print checks, a printer, blank check stock, and an envelope containing numerous stolen checks and approximately $5,000 in cash.

The federal prison sentences were two years for Benford and Stanford, 30 months for Austin Weaver, and 41 months for Michael Williams. They also must pay restitution of $480.943.71 jointly and severally with each other.